Of one million Australian students who took part in the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing this year, 92 per cent were at or above national minimum standards, compared with 93 per cent last year.
Mr Garrett said there were good signs of progress in a number of areas in the preliminary NAPLAN results.
"Year three students are performing particularly well, with statistically significant improvement in reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation between 2008 and 2012," he said.
"This shows that our focus on early childhood education is starting to bear fruit."
The number of year three students who met the national standard for spelling increased from 92.8 per cent last year to 94 per cent while the number of students achieving the numeracy standard slipped from 95.6 to 93.9 per cent.
There were a few declines in some areas, including in writing across most year groups, Mr Garrett said.
But the minister said preliminary results showed Australia's overall school performance had remained steady since 2008, when the national testing began.
"They also show that there is a long way to go in meeting the national goal of reaching the world's top five by 2025 in maths, reading and science and for equity in school performance," Mr Garrett said.
NSW, Victoria and the ACT produced the highest results across all year levels and areas tested for the fourth consecutive year.
The ACT topped the scale for reading, grammar and punctuation and numeracy at all year levels.
Year nine results have been stable in all test subjects since testing began and could indicate a great focus is needed on the core skills of early secondary year students, Mr Garrett said.
Parents will receive individual reports from education authorities from next Monday and the full national report will be released at the end of the year, with individual school information added to the My School website early next year.